Michael Jackson is pretty lucky he still has good friends.
I am told that a $70 million payment that was due on Jackson's $350 million Bank of America loan was recently paid -- not by Jackson, but by a group of friends and advisers who saved him from financial disaster. The payment was due on Feb. 17 and has already been made by Jackson stalwarts Al Malnik, a Miami lawyer, and Charles Koppleman, a long-time respected figure in the record business. Both of them attended the Monday summit of the Jackson inner circle at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
What would have happened if the payment hadn't been made? "Michael would have been flushed down the toilet," my source said.
Koppleman, putting on a brave face, told reporters at the Beverly Hills Hotel yesterday that Jackson's finances were "fine." They are far from it.
The $70 million payment extends Jackson's agreement with the Bank of America through December 2005, when he will again have to deal with his mounting debt. By that time he presumably will have stood trial on charges of child molestation.
The child molestation case, by the way, was never referred to directly during yesterday's meeting of 27 Jackson advisers, including Nation of Islam chief of staff Leonard Muhammad. I am told that the lawyers, accountants, and other interested parties went through all the outstanding litigation pending with Jackson including his lawsuit against Granada TV for last year's Martin Bashir documentary.
You might be interested to know that Bashir and his crew may not have obtained proper signed releases from all the people in the film, including the 12-year-old boy who is accusing Jackson and his family.
Also discussed was the Beatles catalog, which is tied to the Bank of America loan and could be imperiled in December 2005. Language in the agreement between Jackson and Sony Music apparently makes it impossible for him to sell it to any other entity than Sony.
Jackson and Sony, as we all know, became 50/50 partners in Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 1995. Jackson borrowed $200 million against his half of the company from Bank of America in 1998, using the catalog to secure the loan.
Of all the players involved in this Greek tragedy, Malnik now comes off looking more like a hero than ever before. When he and Jackson were on good terms, he promised to meet the Feb. 17 date, according to sources. But Jackson became offended last fall when Malnik tried to give him some reasonable advice concerning his lifestyle. Malnik apparently suggested to Jackson all the things you or I might try like: spend less, don't let kids sleep in your bed, stop doing weird stuff in public.
"Michael wouldn't listen to him," a friend says. "And then he saw that Malnik had a statue in his house that looked like the Devil. Michael used that as an excuse to stop speaking to him."
Malnik, I guess, like Tommy Mottola, had become very, very devilish.
Jackson's relationship with Bank of America hinges on Malnik and his team, the same group that I told you was trying to restructure Jackson's finances last fall, before the child molestation charges were filed by the Santa Barbara District Attorney. But it's unlikely Malnik will hang around if Jackson continues to share a bed with the Nation of Islam.
As a postscript, I must say I was fairly amused to see lots of "experts" all over TV yesterday repeating verbatim what they'd read in this column with straight faces — as if they'd dug it up themselves. Now I know how Chuck Berry must have felt the first time he heard "Fun, Fun, Fun."
Oh, those fun geezers at the National Board of Review are having a lot of internal problems. Surprised? I'm not.
Tonight the NBR hosts its annual give-everyone-an-award ceremony at Tavern on the Green with plenty of roast beef, mashed potatoes and ass kissing.
Not a group of movie critics, but rather a mishmash of fan-types with few credentials, the NBR is treasured by the studios because it gives out the first award of the season and has a fancy sounding name. Otherwise, it is meaningless.
Nevertheless, some people tonight might notice the absence of Lois Ballon, the once terrifying managing director who, I am told, was ousted in the last year — or hoisted by her own petard.
It seems that Ballon, who ruled with a cattle prod and made no friends in the press, decided since last year to back a candidate for the group's presidency. She chose Sarah Eastman, an NBR member, who ran against the group's vice president, Victoria Wilson. Wilson is a famous book editor at Alfred A. Knopf and is currently a senior vice president there. She's edited many important writers, won lots of awards, and had many bestsellers. Wilson is also considered an expert in film and theatre writing.
Eastman's credentials, which were presented at the NBR elections, were less impressive. "She likes movies," said one observer.
Wilson had proposed that the NBR get involved in projects like film restoration and other good works. Eastman ran for office on the "let's continue to do nothing" platform that has informed the NBR lo these many years.
Who won? Well, Eastman, of course. Wilson, according to sources, consequently resigned. (She declined comment through an assistant yesterday.)
But Ballon's political triumph was short-lived. According to sources, as soon as Eastman took over, she forced Ballon off the board and, subsequently, out of the NBR. When queried about Ballon's sudden absence, a prominent board member said, "She's older, and she had back trouble."
Ballon's departure still leaves her old cronies, fellow managing directors Carol Rapoport and Bob Policastro — the latter being the former banquet manager of Tavern on the Green — to run the group with Eastman and president Annie Schulhof, another Ballon supported candidate who helped in the ouster. Wilson is said to be interested in returning only as president and if she can implement some of her ideas. I wouldn't hold my breath, Ms. Wilson.
You may wonder, by the way, if the National Board of Review is a precursor to the Academy Awards. Let's put it this way: last year they got Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actress all wrong. Their only choice that went on to the big show was Chris Cooper for Best Supporting Actor. But their other picks — "The Hours," Philip Noyce, Campbell Scott, Julianne Moore, and Kathy Bates — were far afield.
I actually thought I was hallucinating yesterday when I received the latest press release from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner — the man who invented the group, runs it even now, houses it in his offices and provides all kinds of services for it — is being inducted in the non-performer category.
According to the group's press person, this was a surprise to Wenner, whose name was on a ballot along with 40 other people. I don't know if any of the voters live in Florida.
Wenner even initially turned down the honor, the press rep said. I couldn't hear the rest because I was laughing so hard that my kidney stone almost became dislodged.
Oh, well, we've gone over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's problems in the past. But let's take this opportunity to remind readers around the world that the Foundation will provide medical and financial help to any musician who played on a hit record, not just those who have been inducted or nominated. If you know someone who's ailing or failing, call the Foundation's highly paid, attractive president Suzan Evans at 212-484-1755. She's got a big wad of cash and needs to give it away.
As for Jann Wenner: congrats! I sure hope Paul Simon and Don Henley, your best buds, will do the presentation.